Ethan Zuckerman, writing for The Atlantic:
I have come to believe that advertising is the original sin of the web. The fallen state of our Internet is a direct, if unintentional, consequence of choosing advertising as the default model to support online content and services.
It’s a long article, worth reading. But cutting to the chase:
Users will pay for services that they love…If we want to build a web that’s really global, we need to rethink online payment systems. Visa and Mastercard may never become pervasive in India and sub-Saharan Africa as mobile money already has a strong market share… The model Ted Nelson dreamed of with Xanadu, where hyperlinks would ensure authors were cited and compensated for their work, required a micropayment system with low transaction costs.
This is what I have been saying for months now. We have a choice between two internets:
- An internet where paying for content is a costly/burdensome exercise for both users and creators, which means 99% of anything worth doing is subsidized by the sale of ads, “investor storytime”, and selling users’ personal data.
- An internet where micropayments are easy, automated, and built into the infrastructure of the network, making it easy to buy and sell digital content and removing the need for ad sales to extract value from what we create.
At this point we’ve basically chosen Internet #1 by default. We need to switch to #2. I pointed this out in a long article on this site, which I later reworked for Medium on a lark. Zuckerman cites Maciej Cegłowski pretty heavily; I cite Matthew Butterick and Sir Tim Berners-Lee as fully agreeing with them on this, and proposing specific solutions to boot.
Notice in #1 above, I’m not saying buying and selling on today’s web is impossible, I’m saying it’s a sucky experience.1 Imagine if in order to buy a book on the Kindle store you had to do a credit card transaction with every author directly. That’s what the web is like today. That’s what needs to change.
Originally I was saying we need to get micropayments built right into HTTP, but in the end I don’t really care how we do it. All we need is some open, universal way for creators to say “you owe me $0.002 to see this page” and some open, universal painless way for users to give it to them. No committing to some kind of patronage relationship, no weird browser-specific app stores, no credit card details. Just give creators the same revenue per-pageview they’re getting from advertisers, without making them get it from advertisers. That’s how we fix the internet.
On Indieweb’s IRC channel, Tantek Çelik complained that I’m “handwaving” since I’m “not trying” to monetize my own site, as though I were complaining that it’s impossible to sell content online. (If he had bothered to check, he’d see that I’ve actually explored several ways of doing this, all of which work far better for users than his proposed solution of putting my site on the Mozilla App Store, which I found extremely strange.) But that’s beside the point. As I said at the time, it’s as though I wrote an article on minimum wage and someone accused me of not tipping buskers. The internet’s advertising fixation isn’t a problem you can fix one website at a time; it has to be solved universally or not at all. ↩